Tag Archives: The Door

Sorry State

(sorry)

The REP, Birmingham, Thursday 9th November, 2017

 

Millennials are terrible, aren’t they?  Spoiled, impatient, thinking they’re special…  This new piece from writer Susie Sillett shows us three sides of the coin (if that’s possible!) in this monologue sequence engagingly performed by Phoebe Frances Brown.

The first section concerns employment or should I say ‘employment’ as our protagonist details her exploitation in unpaid internships, illegally long shifts – it’s no wonder she and her peers are still living with their parents.  The character both recognises and accepts her lot as though this is the way it is and shall be forevermore – and she makes it clear she’s not complaining.  She daren’t!  Not while she wants to continue on the way up.

The middle section is a cringe-making dinner date with an old friend who is getting married.  This one quickly flips into something painful to hear, and painful to experience, as our protagonist recounts the agonies of online friendships, and how deeply that ‘unfollowing’ or ‘unfriending’ can hurt.  The modern world forges new kinds of relationships and associations through social media – new behaviours and mores have to be negotiated.  But it all does nothing to assuage her loneliness.  It’s an incisive swipe at society, when all these new connections serve to keep us isolated and alone.

The third part finds our protagonist keeping watch beside her dying granny’s hospital bed.  This is the most emotionally affecting section and is more widely reflective of the nature of life.  The writing opens up beyond the personal as our protagonist considers her place in the world, being born at this time, the environment she is inheriting and the problems her generation have to sort out.  Stark comments like ‘no matter what I do, it’s never enough to compensate the damage I do by being alive’.  She can’t make sense of being alive and her reactions and attitude are thoroughly credible.  Forged by what previous generations have done, she is trapped in a world she didn’t make.  And she is sorry for existing.

The show has a strong green message: the seas are full of plastic, of the detritus of our consumerist society.  Our protagonist is most strident in her horror and revulsion, her anger and frustration with what has been done to the world.

An electrifying performance from Phoebe Frances Brown; director Jennifer Davis prevents things from becoming static in the simple, circular space, giving us rises and falls, changes in pace and mood to bring out all the colours of the writing.  Sorcha Corcoran’s set – a chair in a circle, ringed by mounds of paper – becomes more relevant as the show goes on, reminiscent of arctic landscapes…  Alex Boucher’s lighting and Iain Armstrong’s sound design support the performer and help the audience imagine the various settings of the stories.

It all adds up to a taut production, a snapshot of life for young adults, with laughs aplenty and pain in abundance – and isn’t it a particularly British thing for those feeling the most awkward, those in the most pain, those who are pointing out what is wrong, to be the ones to say sorry?

thumbnail_(sorry). Photo Hannah Kelly (1)

Sophie Frances Brown considers the pitfalls of buying a can of chick peas (Photo: Hannah Kelly)

Advertisements

Mum’s the word

BABY DADDY

The Door, Birmingham REP, Thursday 2nd November, 2017

 

Single mothers get a bad press.  Stigmatised by society they are seen as scroungers, promiscuous and slatternly – when really it’s the men that should get the brunt of our disapproval.  At least the mothers stayed to bring up the babies, while the fathers disappear.

In this autobiographical piece, writer-performer Elinor Coleman not only states the case for a new appreciation of single mums (“doing remarkable things in difficult circumstances”) she also entertains us with a window into her world.  Pregnant at 20, Ellie goes it alone.  Yes, she has a strong support network of family and friends but it’s still a lonely life.  And everyday business brings with it the sting of public condemnation.  An encounter on a bus is typical of the judgmental looks and remarks she faces all the time.

Also, Ellie feels there is a gap in her family unit.  She seeks a man to join her and her daughter – and after a few false starts – finds one.  Has Ellie found her happy ending halfway through the show’s running time?  It certainly seems that way…

But no.  Life isn’t as neat as all that.  The relationship ends and Ellie decides to abort her second child.  Stark scenes ensue as yet again Ellie lays herself open to criticism.

Coleman is a likeable presence, honest and funny.  There is a lot of wisdom in her words.  This extended monologue with original songs is bright and breezy with a dark undertone.  What comes across is a slice of contemporary real-life experience, an underdog in our society demonstrating her worth and prompting us to re-evaluate any misguided preconceptions or prejudices we may harbour about young single mums.

The show is underscored by live music from Ricardo Rocha, and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting design provides a range of settings for the story and expressionistic effects for the changing tone.

All in all, this is an amusing, affecting piece, vibrantly performed and with something to say.

baby-daddy-29


Knowing

I KNEW YOU

The Door, Birmingham REP, Tuesday 3rd October, 2017

 

This new piece from Birmingham writer Steven Camden aka Polarbear runs for less than an hour but it’s fifty minutes of cracking theatre.  Three characters perform monologues, setting the scene, gradually revealing their history: Patrick walked out on Angela and their 8 year old son twenty years ago.  A chance sighting by one of Angela’s friends reveals that not only is Patrick back in town but he’s dying from cancer.  Angela is thrown into turmoil: should she even tell son Nathan, now 28 and a stay-at-home dad?  Is there room for Patrick in the lives he left behind?

Lorna Laidlaw (the formidable Mrs Tembe in TV’s Doctors) exudes warmth and humour as Angela.  The delivery is impeccable, the timing, the characterisations – it’s a masterclass in monologue performance and, beyond the performance, we feel for Angela and her predicament.  As son Nathan, Brenton Hamilton too demonstrates an aptitude for storytelling and comic timing.  Roderick Smith’s Patrick doesn’t yield many laughs – he’s the selfish one of the trio, but he speaks Polarbear’s lines with pathos, evincing our empathy.

When at last the characters interact, director Daniel Bailey cranks up the tension by drawing out moments of silence after all the wordiness.  Emotions burst out, voices rise and fall – Bailey does the exquisite script justice in his handling of the dynamics.

And that writing!  When she hears her ex is back, Angela describes her reaction: “I can feel my blood.  My head is full of photographs and arguments.”  Bloody wonderful.    The genius is in the detail.  Throwaway details of modern life, ironic observations of human nature, all wrapped up in this neat little package.

The piece lacks nothing, delivers everything, but I can’t help wanting more or to see it all again.

Funny, touching, insightful and fabulous.

Lorna Laidlaw (Angela) Brenton Hamilton (Nathan)_I Knew You_c Graeme Braidwood

Lorna Laidlaw and Brenton Hamilton (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

 


Lashing Out

THE WHIP HAND

The Door, Birmingham REP, Wednesday 6th September, 2017

 

Dougie (Jonathan Watson) is gathering family members to celebrate his 50th birthday – he has an agenda, a presentation to make.  The venue is his ex-wife’s house and Dougie is welcomed by her second husband, Lorenzo (Richard Conlon) who is a bit of a liberal and a smoothie with a penchant for artisanal ale.  Running tech support for his uncle is Aaron (Michael Abubakar), Dougie’s mixed-race nephew. Completing the party are the ex-wife Arlene (Louise Ludgate) and the daughter she shares with Dougie, Molly (Joanne Thomson).    The nature of these relationships emerges along with the purpose of Dougie’s presentation…  He has received an email from an organisation that seeks reparation for the evils of the slave trade – it turns out Dougie is a descendant of a sugar-beet millionaire and slave master.  Prompted by white-man’s guilt and his milestone birthday, Dougie wants to do some good in the world, and has come to ask Arlene to sign over Molly’s college fund.

This production in partnership with Traverse Theatre Company and the National Theatre of Scotland provides a powerful 90 minutes of drama, laced with barbed humour and performed by a strong cast of five who each get their moments to shine, thanks to Douglas Maxwell’s taut and thought-provoking script.   Jonathan Watson is great as the volatile Dougie, contrasting nicely with Richard Conlon’s smooth-talking Lorenzo.  Louise Ludgate impresses as the sarcastic, impassioned Arlene, who has good reason to be cynical and short-tempered where Dougie is concerned, while Joanne Thomson’s Molly goes on a journey of discovery as secrets from the past are wrenched to the fore.  Michael Abubakar’s outbursts as Aaron add intensity to proceedings.

Director Tessa Walker draws us into the play’s discourse first with the amusing naturalism of a comedy of manners, and keeps us hooked with seething animosity, spoken and unsaid.  We suspect from the start the email is some kind of scam but the argument it provokes (that the world we live in is built on the atrocities perpetrated by slavers) is potent – although we don’t agree with Dougie’s means to redress ancient evils.

When the true nature of the scam comes to light, we see that the evils that need redressing aren’t so evil, as Aaron learns the truth about his father’s absence.

Darkly comic and provocative, the piece is in danger of letting its argument overpower our attachment to the characters – it’s one of those where you admire the performers but detest the dramatis personae.  A good advertisement for family gatherings, it is not!  And it shows us that racism, unlike the slave trade, is not a thing of the past.

A slanging match with bite and substance, The Whip Hand stirs up big themes in a domestic setting.  The personal is political and there is nothing more personal nor political than the bitter quarrels of family members.

15. Jonathan Watson and Louise Ludgate. Photo by David Monteith-Hodge

Jonathan Watson and Louise Ludgate (Photo: David Monteith-Hodge)

 

 


Changing faces and facing changes

MADE UP

The Door, the REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th May, 2016

 

Stan’s Café continues to be one of the most creative and surprising theatre companies – in Birmingham, at least!  Each show is different and, in this respect, their latest offering is no different – if you see what I mean.

Set in Winnebago on a film set, we meet make-up artist Sue (Alexis Tuttle) and upcoming movie star Kate (Emily Holyoake) and follow their relationship by eavesdropping on their conversations.  While they talk, Sue applies make-up to Kate – instead of a mirror, Kate’s face is projected large on the back wall.  It is endlessly fascinating to watch an artist at work – the piece is co-devised by the cast alongside make-up artist Andrew Whiteoak.  Tuttle has evidently been well schooled.  A relationship develops between the two women, the kind of short-lived but intimate relationship that occurs in showbiz, when people come together but only for the duration of a project.  It is also the kind of relationship familiar from trips to the hairdresser, for example.  We tend to open up to people who approach our heads and faces with sharp objects.

Sudden changes in Simon Bond’s lighting signal changes of conversation.  The play keeps us on our toes as Sue and Kate become other people in each other’s lives: Kate takes a phone call from her mother, her agent… Sue speaks to her estranged daughter…  Gradually, a fractured picture emerges, a piecemeal portrait of each woman’s life, and so, while there is no overt plot, we do chart what their lives are like, personally and professionally, beyond the confines of the Winnebago.  The Winnebago itself is delineated by a framework, an illuminated outline that brings to mind the lightbulbs around a dressing-room mirror – a brilliant idea simply and effectively realised by designer Harry Trow.  The lights add glitz and also warmth to proceedings.

Director James Yarker keeps the performances naturalistic, almost down-played in some instances; we are credited with intelligence enough to work out which conversation we are earwigging at any given moment.  This channel-flicking or radio-tuning effect makes the piece disjointed but ultimately enables it to deliver its most poignant moment, when Sue receives an award for her contribution.

Both actors deliver, with Tuttle being the most obviously versatile, although Holyoake’s role is differently impressive, being confined to the chair as she is, having to signal her range of characters from the neck up, her face writ large behind her.  Which says something about the differences between stage and screen acting, I suppose.

The play puts in the spotlight moments that usually happen off-screen.  The faces Sue applies to Kate, the faces Kate is forced to adopt in her private life, when getting papped, for example.  Subtly, rather than overtly, it suggests we should think about the masks we wear and for what reasons.  A bit of a slow-burner, Made Up’s whole is more than the sum of its parts.  What it lacks in direct punch, it delivers in gentle and amusing discourse.

Alexis Tuttle as Sue and Emily Holyoake as Kate in Made Up_c Graeme Braidwood

Movie trailer: Alexis Tuttle and Emily Holyoake in the Winnebago (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)


Good Grief!

A BEAUTIFUL ENDING
The Door, Birmingham REP, Wednesday 27th January, 2016

 

Writer-performer Mohamed El Khatib brings his one-man show dealing with loss and grief to Birmingham. It’s in French – English surtitles are projected on the back wall and on a TV screen – as he reads from his notebook, tells anecdotes, or plays recorded conversations with his late mother. What it amounts to is a documentary-style piece that tells a true story – his mother’s death from liver cancer.

Put like that it sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it?

The experience is certainly not grim at all.

It’s raw, at times; it’s honest and frank. It’s also, perhaps unexpectedly, very funny. Perhaps it helps that, to us, it’s in a foreign language; we British like to be at a bit of a remove from this kind of thing. Reading the subtitles and giving my A Level in French a bit of a workout, has me hanging on every word. I also keep an eye on the performer – El Khatib is gently charismatic. A likeable chap, he is direct and deadpan. The family he tells us about may be French, and Muslim, but we relate to the humanity we have in common. Their foibles are our foibles; the gallows humour universal. The title, it turns out, is ironic.

It’s a glimpse into another way of life – a deeply personal piece – but it’s also a reflection on things we all share. It’s bittersweet, poignant and funny. The conflict with the silent, invisible antagonist brings tragedy, the funeral customs and rituals bring black humour. El Khatib’s matter-of-fact, conversational delivery deals with difficult moments in an absence of sentimentality, making the impact all the more powerful.

Recommended.

mohamed el khatib

Mohamed El Khatib


Grandad, Grandad, you’re lovely…

ABUELO

The Door, Birmingham REP, Friday 15th January, 2015

 

This new one-woman piece from writer-performer Amahra Spence draws parallels between the experiences of a young black woman in the West Midlands with those of her grandfather who arrived from Jamaica, alone at the age of 16. Spence drops in and out of characters with economy and ease – Grandad is larger-than-life but she never overeggs her portrayal or descends into caricature or stereotype. That said, he does come across as your everyday elderly West Indian bloke! It’s affectionately done, and Spence saves the hardship and the gruelling episodes for the young woman, when the humour is replaced with some vivid, gutsy writing and some harrowing moments of storytelling.

Spence animates her words with gesture and tone of voice – she is clearly in command of the material and the medium. She keeps us hooked, despite sometimes the patois being a bit dense (“It’s all right, I don’t understand what that one’s about” she confesses) and some of the anecdotes having more impact than others. What comes across is a sense of family, and closeness. Collecting Grandad’s stories reveals more about the collector than the storyteller.

Director Daniel Bailey prevents the pared-down staging from becoming static and Spence’s scene and mood changes are supported by some sharp lighting from Ben Pacey and an eclectic soundtrack from Enrico Aurigemma.

It feels like a very personal event. There is honesty and authenticity running through the entire piece. It’s touching, stark, funny and uplifting – an excellent debut from a fresh and frank new playwright.  There is a genuine thrill of delight at the end when she invites the old man himself to join her on stage for a bow. She has evoked him so vividly we feel that we know and love him too.

Amahra Spence in Abuelo_c Graeme Braidwood

Amahra Spence (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)